Impact of the decentralization reform on the quality of local public services in Ukraine
Decentralization, the transfer of authorities from the central government to local governments, tends to impact the performance of local authorities. These impacts are felt through changes in the allocation of revenue patterns, improvements to the quality of, and access to, public services, and relocation of decision-making to a local level. The ongoing decentralization reform in Ukraine simultaneously features administrative, fiscal and political decentralization of power. It is expected that the reform will facilitate community development and improve quality of life by empowering the lowest levels of government. This study analyzes changes in the quality of public services in the cities of regional significance in Ukraine since the beginning of the decentralization reform in 2014. Using the data from the Ukrainian Municipal Survey 2015-2018, we compared the quality of public services rated by the residents of the 24 cities in 2015 and 2018. We found that the overall quality of public services improved within the measured period with only the quality of medical institutions showing a slight decrease. The largest improvements were observed in the quality of road infrastructure and public parks. We attribute these improvements to increased government transparency and accountability, as well as local governments’ ability to address local issues. Increased revenues and reductions in corruption also contributed to the improvement in the quality of public services. However, regardless of the improved average quality, some cities show significant decreases in some, or most, of the services. Among the 24 surveyed cities, 18 improved the average quality of public services. The citizens of the remaining six cities rated the quality as decreased. The estimated decreases vary from 0.9% in Ternopil to 9.1% in Chernivtsi. Based on the inconsistency in the change of the quality of public services, we recommend a process for monitoring of actions, expenditures, and budgets at local levels of government, linked with their actions for improving the quality of local services. Secondly, local governments should facilitate actions that address the current low level of public participation and engagement in local decision-making. Additionally, shifting the responsibility of providing public services from local governments to private companies and implementation of public-private partnerships will ensure more consumer oriented services, and therefore, higher quality of services due to market competition. Lastly, we call for well-trained officials to support comprehensive planning and economic development planning efforts in local governments.